Friday, February 15, 2008

Olympic boycotts

George Bush to BBC's Matt Frei today

Frei: Yesterday, Steven Spielberg - the Hollywood director - pulled out of the Beijing Olympics over Darfur. He said the Chinese aren't doing enough to stop the killing in Darfur. Do you applaud his move?

Mr Bush: That's up to him. I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg so, I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur. There's a lot of issues that I suspect people are gonna, you know, opine, about during the Olympics. I mean, you got the Dali Lama crowd. You've got global warming folks. You've got, you know, Darfur and... I am not gonna you know, go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way 'cause I do it all the time with the president. I mean. So, people are gonna be able to choose - pick and choose how they view the Olympics.

Which, besides sounding like the easy way out, is not in that Reagan tradition that every Republican always says they're a part of. Reagan supported Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

UPDATE: Here's more on Reagan's rationale (and note the plus ├ža change aspect in the questioner) --

May 14, 1984, Q&A with reporters --

Andrea [Andrea Mitchell, NBC News]? And then I'll come across -- --

Q. Mr. President, you have said in the past -- in 1980 you said that you supported the boycott. This year, you're saying that politics have no place in an Olympic boycott. Why have you changed your position?

The President. Well, let's remember the different situation. The Soviets have now announced that they are not going to come because they don't believe that we can offer protection to their athletes. And, as I say, we have been given -- we've given them chapter and verse on what we have done, and there had never been anything like it.

Now, in 1980, the reason for the boycott that was given by the then administration was because the Soviets had invaded -- openly invaded with their own forces -- a neighboring country, Afghanistan, that hadn't done any thing to them or lifted a finger against them.

I think this was a completely different situation. It is true, however, that I went through several stages of thinking then. It wasn't just an automatic accepting of the politicizing of that. I was as angry as anyone, I'm sure, as we all were, and as disapproving of the invasion of Afghanistan -- and still am. But at the time, I did voice a question as to -- I questioned our government setting a precedent of denying the right of our own citizens to leave our borders and go someplace else.

I then thought in terms of shouldn't this decision be made by the free American citizens, the Olympic Committee, the athletes themselves? I went through a stage of thinking in which I said it wasn't so much of their not participating as, I said, shouldn't we -- since the Olympics traditionally were born in and exist on the basis of trying to provide peace between nations -- they, the host nation, having done what they did, should we not consider removing the Olympics from that country and staging them someplace else? And from that I went to exploring what so many have and are exploring now: possibly having the Olympics from now on be in the home of their origin, Greece, and not have them move around the world.

Of course, this exchange caught Reagan when the 1980 boycott had come back to bite the USA, in the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

[Text above found in the Reagan speech archive at the University of Texas; photo showing Bush when he was one of the "Dali Lama" crowd]

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